June 16, 2020
More than a century ago, a group of visionary leaders caught hold of a dream to create a great Cathedral for all Americans, a sacred place where the nation could gather to celebrate our highest ideals, and a place big enough and strong enough to shelter our deepest emotions.
Throughout the Cathedral’s history, there have been starts and stops in construction as our life together yielded to the conditions around us. War and economic downturns slowed our pace, but never diminished the zeal to live into God’s calling to be a national house of prayer for all people.
Now, caught in the grips of a global pandemic, we find ourselves again shaped by economic forces around us. The coronavirus closures have upended life at institutions large and small, including here at the Cathedral, even as we have been able to successfully adapt our offerings to an online environment.
The question before us now is how we keep that original vision thriving as the Cathedral weathers this latest challenge.
The reality is that three months of closure due to the pandemic have had serious negative consequences on our finances. At the same time, we anticipate that social distancing requirements, public sentiment and concern for the most vulnerable all mean that it may take 12 to 18 months for us to return to pre-pandemic levels, and perhaps longer.
Called to be careful stewards of the gifts God has entrusted to us, we find ourselves forced to reckon with the conditions as we find them, not as we might wish them to be. As a result, today the Cathedral announced a series of painful cuts that are both necessary and hard to accept.
These changes are all the more difficult because they are not the result of mismanagement or poor planning. Indeed, the last four years have seen consecutive budget surpluses and growth in the size of our reach and the impact of our ministry. Today’s changes are the result of forces beyond our control.
Out of a commitment to responsible and sustainable financial stewardship, we need to reduce the Cathedral’s footprint until a vaccine is developed and the public feels comfortable gathering in large groups once again. Cathedral life has shifted these last three months, and we need a budget that reflects our new reality, for as long as it lasts.
To that end, we have reduced the Cathedral full-time workforce by 15 percent. In the new fiscal year that starts on July 1, 2020, 13 full-time positions will be eliminated, as well as 13 part-time positions. An additional 12 full-time positions will be fully or partially furloughed, and most of our part-time and contract employees will see their hours reduced for the foreseeable future. Our most heavily impacted departments are those most involved in public engagement, particularly tourism and events management.
It is important to me, and to the Cathedral’s senior leadership, that this is a shared sacrifice. To that end, our FY21 budget includes a 20% pay cut for our highest-paid employees, including myself. Moreover, all employees will see reduced benefits for the next 12 months, and we will forgo pay raises and new hires until conditions improve.
I want you to know that these are more than mere numbers on a spreadsheet; each decision involves painful change for treasured colleagues and friends, and it grieves me deeply. In my 30 years of ordained ministry, this is the hardest set of decisions I’ve ever had to make.
I ask you to join me in prayer for each member of our Cathedral family who is impacted by these changes. We will make every attempt to support them personally and professionally, and we will walk with them through this transition.
Over the new few weeks, we will meet as a Cathedral team to plan our next steps. Our core commitments remain in Welcoming, Deeping, Convening and Serving. We will prioritize our energies around worship and music, and use our place at the intersection of the civic and the sacred to bring people together at this critical time in our country’s history to address the two pandemics that plague us: COVID-19 and the sin of racism.
As we do this, we will work to enhance our ever-increasing digital presence, creating a truly virtual Cathedral that can minister to the growing numbers of people who have turned to us as a beacon of hope and healing in these dark times.
In spite of their grandeur and immensity, Cathedrals have been fragile enterprises for centuries. They are constantly buffeted by change and subjected to external environments that aren’t always friendly. Yet Cathedrals are also built to the glory of the living God, anchored in the certainty of God’s unfailing love and the assurance of God’s life-giving Spirit. That is where I place my hope, and my prayers, for the days ahead.
With every blessing,
The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith
Dean, Washington National Cathedral